Clock ticks on Palestinian UN plan

A Palestinian woman chants slogan during a rally supporting the Palestinian statehood bid in front of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process offices in Gaza City on Thursday (AP photo by Adel Hana)
A Palestinian woman chants slogan during a rally supporting the
Palestinian statehood bid in front of the United Nations Special Coordinator for
the Middle East Peace Process offices in Gaza City on Thursday (AP photo by Adel

– Diplomats struggled to find a formula on Thursday to avoid a clash over the Middle East as time ticked down on Palestinian plans to ask the United Nations to recognise their statehood, Reuters reported.

President Mahmoud Abbas is pushing ahead with plans to submit the Palestinian application to the UN Security Council on Friday, rebuffing a personal plea from US President Barack Obama to forego the UN option and resume direct peace talks with Israel.

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse reported that Israel on Friday will raise its level of security alertness in case unrest accompanies Abbas’ application for UN membership for a Palestinian state, quoting Israei security forces.

“We will be heightening security by one level in general,” Israeli spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld told AFP.

Senior security officers were to meet later Thursday in Jerusalem to decide on whether age limits would be set for Palestinians entering the city’s flashpoint Al Aqsa Mosque compound for Friday prayers.

An Israeli army spokesman, Captain Arye Shalicar, said the military would show “restraint” in dealing with unrest, “providing the minimal effective response, using riot dispersal means as required by the severity of the disturbances”.

Another military official said that it was not yet decided if crossings between the West Bank and Israel would close.

Also on Thursday, the European Union’s president urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume direct talks in an address to the United Nations on the eve of the Palestinian bid state membership, according to AFP.

“Now, the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the top priority,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy said in his address to the UN General Assembly.

“Now is the time for politics: for dialogue and negotiations. Populations have lived in fear and suffering for too long,” Van Rompuy said.

Van Rompuy repeated the EU’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, under which a negotiated resolution would be based on Israel’s 1967 borders with mutually acceptable land swaps.

The EU is also “fully supporting financially” the Palestinian state-building process, Van Rompuy added.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, called Thursday for international “pressure” on Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, AFP reported.

“It is necessary to put pressure on Israel to achieve peace,” Erdogan told the UN General Assembly, “and show them that they are not above the law”.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday the United States was focused on the future irrespective of whether the Palestinians submit a bid for UN membership of a state.

“I think it is important to note that regardless of what happens tomorrow in the United Nations, we remain focused on the day after,” Clinton said.

Clinton told reporters she was “encouraged to hear from both the leadership of the Palestinians and the Israeli government their continuing commitment to direct negotiations,” according to AFP.

Obama ended meetings with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday with no sign of progress on the Palestinian issue, highlighting the stark new limits of US influence and his own personal clout, Reuters reported.

He earlier told the United Nations that only negotiations can lead to a Palestinian state, and made no mention of a need for Israeli concessions, which could alienate Israel’s powerful US support base ahead of tough presidential election battle next year.

Obama has said the United States will veto any Palestinian move in the Security Council.

Diplomats are now focused on several scenarios which they hope may contain the damage.

The Security Council could delay action on Abbas’ request, giving the mediating “Quartet” – the US, Russia, the EU and the UN – more time to craft a declaration that could coax both sides back to the table.

But the Quartet may be unable to agree on a statement within the next two days that could satisfy both Israel and the Palestinians, which remain divided on core issues including borders, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the future of Jewish settlements.

Another option, advanced by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, would see the Palestinians skip the Security Council in favour of the General Assembly, which could vote to upgrade the Palestinians from an “entity” to a “non-member state” while reviving direct peace talks.

Sarkozy’s plan calls for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to begin within one month, an agreement on borders and security within six months and a definitive peace agreement within a year.

The General Assembly route would require only a simple majority of the 193-nation body, not a two-thirds majority necessary for full statehood.

The Palestinians, for their part, have pledged to press ahead with the Security Council bid while keeping the General Assembly option open.

( / 27.09.2011)

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